Ohio plans to invest $626m in smart-grid technology

  • July 25, 2022
  • Steve Rogerson

FirstEnergy has proposed a four-year, $626m investment plan to expand smart-grid technology through its Ohio utilities – Ohio Edison, Cleveland Electric Illuminating and Toledo Edison.

The plan has been filed with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (Puco) to expand investments in smart grid technology, including equipment to help reduce the frequency and duration of power outages.

The filing, known as Ohio Grid Mod II, proposes a four-year, $626m investment that builds on system upgrades completed since the Puco approved the utilities’ Grid Mod I plan in 2019. To date, that programme has resulted in improved outage restoration times in areas where the smart technology was installed.

For example, thousands of Ohio Edison customers in Trumbull and Mahoning counties in north-east Ohio have seen their average restoration times improve by nearly half an hour in more complex outage scenarios, such as equipment damage from severe weather or a vehicle accident. Improvements have also been realised in the Cleveland Electric Illuminating and Toledo Edison territories.

“The projects we’ve completed under Grid Mod I have proven to be successful in reducing many power interruptions,” said Sam Belcher, senior vice president of FirstEnergy Operations. “This has laid the foundation for us to further enhance service reliability across our entire service area in Ohio. While events out of our control, like severe weather or vehicle accidents, still have the potential to cause outages, the proposed plan will allow us to enhance our results from Grid Mod I and expand the work to areas of our service territory that have not yet benefited from these enhancements.”

Key components of Grid Mod II include installing:

  • Automated equipment on nearly 240 distribution grid sections that can automatically isolate problems, reduce the number impacted by an outage and quickly restore electric service;
  • Voltage regulating equipment on nearly 220 grid sections that can provide energy savings by reducing the amount of electricity that must be generated and that allows all those served by a single power line to receive the same flow of safe, reliable power by evenly distributing electricity down the line; and
  • 700,000 smart meters along with the necessary supporting communications infrastructure and data management system.

The Grid Mod II programme follows installation to date of approximately 704,000 smart meters as part of Grid Mod I. As the latest in metering technology, smart meters enable users to track their energy consumption and eliminate estimated readings.

Through the My Account feature, customers have access to various tools and information that can help them understand usage and manage electricity costs. Smart meters also can be leveraged by those electing to enrol in programmes such as time-varying rates, which can provide price incentives to reduce electricity use during high demand periods throughout the day.

In addition, Grid Mod II would offer smart thermostat rebates of $50 per thermostat and customer energy management reports for residential users that will further enable them to manage their energy usage. In the future, smart meter benefits will also include the ability to detect and locate outages more quickly and provide more accurate and timely storm restoration information.

The filing also includes several pilot programmes that could provide enhanced customer benefits.

Examples include programmes designed to support the adoption of electric vehicles (EV) across the company’s Ohio service territories. Central to these programmes is the testing of higher capacity residential and commercial EV chargers that can charge vehicles faster, the ability to reduce costs by shifting charging demand away from peak demand periods and the use of EV chargers that permit the bidirectional flow of power so certain EVs can both draw from and contribute power to the grid.

The residential programme will consist of up to 600 EV charging ports at homes, and residential users electing to participate will receive incentives of up to $750. Two commercial programmes offered as part of the pilot include incentives of up to $2000 per EV charging port for up to 300 commercial locations, and incentives of up to $20,000 for up to six commercial or governmental users with ten or more fully electric vehicles capable of bidirectional power flow.

A battery energy storage system will be installed to support increased EV charging load along the Ohio Turnpike and enhance grid reliability.

The firm also wants to install automated devices in neighbourhoods throughout Ohio Edison’s and Toledo Edison’s service areas, particularly in areas prone to animal- or tree-related outages. The devices work like a circuit breaker in a home that shuts off power when trouble occurs, with the added benefit of automatically reenergising power lines within seconds for certain types of outages to keep power safely flowing.

“The benefits of Grid Mod II for our Ohio customers through enhanced reliability, energy efficiency opportunities and innovative products and services are estimated to exceed the costs of the programme by nearly $280m in today’s dollars,” said Belcher. “We are excited to enhance the delivery of safe, reliable power through this investment while also promoting modern experiences and emerging technologies that can ultimately help lower energy bills to our customers.”

If approved by the Puco, a typical FirstEnergy Ohio utility residential user could expect to see an average monthly charge of about $2.40 for the length of the Grid Mod II plan. The proposed plan includes protections for customers, such as caps on recovery of Grid Mod II costs, annual Puco audits, the companies’ reporting of metrics and a quarterly collaborative meeting with stakeholders.

FirstEnergy’s ten electric distribution companies form one of the USA’s largest investor-owned electric systems, serving customers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia, Maryland and New York. The company’s transmission subsidiaries operate approximately 38,000km of transmission lines that connect the mid-west and mid-Atlantic regions.